Rhapsody exec: splashy ads and free streaming promotions don’t work

How do you convince people that they don’t need to own music anymore? That’s a question that streaming music services have been struggling with for years. Both Spotify and Rdio have been ramping up their ad spending in recent months to attract more subscribers to their respective services — but they’re doing it all wrong, says Rhapsody VP Product and Content Jon Maples.

Rhapsody has been offering music subscriptions since 2001, much than any of its competitors, and Maples said in a blog post Monday that the company has made many of the same mistakes that he believes Spotify and Rdio are repeating now. One lesson Rhapsody learned the hard way is that ads for a music subscription service should be about the service, not artists or emotional connections:

“We tried the emotional connection to music with our Droga5-produced bubbles ad early on. The ad featured a woman who dove off a building into a bubble that immersed her into music. She dove into another bubble, and the music changed. Nice idea. Hard to understand in terms of product. Or value proposition. Or pretty much anything outside of diving off high rises, which we neither condone nor recommend.”

In case you’re curious, here is the Rhapsody ad in question:


Compare that to this much less artsy Rhapsody ad, which performed much better, according to Maples:


And here’s one of the ads Spotify is running right now:


But Maples didn’t just criticize his competitors’ ads. He also voiced some doubts about the benefits of giving away free music to promote subscription services. In particular, he took issue with a promotional campaign run by Rdio, in which the company secured exclusive content to stream for free on Rdio.com. Guesstimating the conversion rate for that promotion, he concluded:

“Rdio and Rhapsody are in the business of sourcing, identifying and enticing fans who are willing to pay for music. How you go about that is the hard part. My belief is that streaming companies have to sell the value of a music service and the benefits to customers instead of relying on an emotional connection to music, giving songs away or buying exclusive rights to a band’s new release.”